Bruges-la-Morte, 1978

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What we have here is a very creditable 67-minute film adaptation of the Symbolist novel by Georges Rodenbach. Ronald Chase directed, co-wrote the screenplay with Pier Luigi Farri, and also photographed the production with a small company of English actors in the city of Bruges. The film has recently been given a high-definition restoration and made available on the director’s Vimeo page. Chase describes his adaptation as a low-budget affair, the footage being originally intended for screening during performances of Die Tode Stadt by Eric Korngold, but it doesn’t come across as cheap or amateurish thanks to a professional cast and authentic locations. Rodenbach’s novel is distinguished by its early use of photographic illustrations, most of which are views of the canals of Bruges. Here we get to see the church steeples and crow-step gables from the viewpoint of a camera drifting along the same swan-filled waterways.

It’s a long time since I read Rodenbach’s novel so I can’t judge this version in any detail although my memories are of a dreamier narrative than the one the film delivers. Chase credits the story as being “suggested” by the novel but the broad outline follows Rodenbach, with a grieving widower (Richard Easton, whose character is unnamed in the film) meeting a dancer (Kristin Milward) who seems to be the double of his recently deceased wife. The dancer works with a troupe of performers who stage a nocturnal masque for the tormented man, an event which fails to alleviate his confusion or his anguish.

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Chase’s film resembles one of the literary adaptations the BBC used to make throughout 1970s and 80s, modest and serious, and certainly of a quality that it could have been broadcast as a part of the Omnibus arts strand or in a late slot on BBC 2. Among the performers are a Pierrot character played by Anthony Daniels, an actor most people will know for his role as a gold robot in a space opera, and Nickolas Grace, who appeared as Oscar Wilde a decade later in Ken Russell’s Salomé’s Last Dance. There’s a touch of the diabolical Russell (and James Ensor) in the later masque scenes when the performers don papier-mâché masks, and a nun gets chased around a church. The mask-making is credited–very surprisingly–to Winston Tong, an artist and musician best known for his association with Tuxedomoon. I was hoping we might see more of the gloomy canals and equally gloomy architecture but the buildings and bridges that we do see look just as they would have done in Rodenbach’s day. If you want more there’s always the paintings and drawings of Fernand Khopff and Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer, or the photographs in the novel itself.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Bruges in photochrom
Bruges panoramas
Bruges-la-Morte

No tears for the creatures of the night

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No Tears (1978): A song and 12″ EP by Tuxedomoon. Sleeve design by Winston Tong.

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• An artwork from 2005 by Will Munro.

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• A make-up portfolio from 2012 by Belinda Betz. Photographer : Erwin Tirta. Model : Jesy Love. Make-Up Artist (Special Effects) : Belinda Betz.

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• A badge design at Zazzle.

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A Pinterest page. Tags: dracula, isabelle adjani, vampires, werewolves, witchcraft, francisco goya, edward gorey, joanna lumley.

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• A club night in St Gallen, Switzerland.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Blaine L. Reininger: An American Friend
Tuxedomoon: some queer connections
Made To Measure
Subterranean Modern: The Residents, Chrome, MX-80 Sound and Tuxedomoon
Tuxedomoon on La Edad de Oro, 1983
Tuxedomoon designs by Patrick Roques
Pink Narcissus: James Bidgood and Tuxedomoon

Blaine L. Reininger: An American Friend

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Blaine L. Reininger, Tuxedomoon co-founder, singer, violinist and composer, is profiled in this 50-minute documentary made by George Skevas for Paraskinio, a Greek television series. Tuxedomoon have long been popular in Europe, and seem to have struck a particular chord in Greece. These days Reininger is something of a star over there, a fact which surprises him still but which has no doubt helped with Tuxedomoon’s fortunes in recent years.

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Skevas’s film comprises a long biographical interview with Reininger, relating his progress from childhood in Colorado, and the formation of Tuxedomoon in San Francisco, to the group’s inadvertent exile in Europe. There a wealth of historical film footage throughout, some of which is familiar from the official Tuxedomoon DVDs but other clips are exclusive to this programme. Among the notable pieces for me were a glimpse of Winston Tong’s pre-Tuxedomoon puppet performances, a performance by the band on Andy Warhol’s Interview TV show, and shots of the recording of the Desire album in London. Few bands from the 1970s have been this diligent in documenting their activities on film and video. In addition to discovering why Reininger’s first solo album is called Broken Fingers, you also get to see some scenes from the Ghost Sonata film/performance, an ambitious project that I’d known about for years but didn’t get to see until it was released on the 30th anniversary box set in 2007.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Tuxedomoon: some queer connections
Made To Measure
Subterranean Modern: The Residents, Chrome, MX-80 Sound and Tuxedomoon
Tuxedomoon on La Edad de Oro, 1983
Tuxedomoon designs by Patrick Roques
Pink Narcissus: James Bidgood and Tuxedomoon

Tuxedomoon: some queer connections

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UK poster insert by Patrick Roques for Desire (1981).

Yes, more Tuxedomoon: there’s a lot to explore. It’s always a pleasure when something that you enjoy one medium connects to things that interest you elsewhere. From the outset Tuxedomoon have had more than their share of connections to gay culture—to writers especially—but it’s more of an ongoing conversation than any kind of proselytising concern. This post teases out those connections some of which I hadn’t spotted myself until I started delving deeper.

The Angels of Light: Not the Michael Gira group but an earlier band of musicians and performers in San Francisco in the early 1970s. The Angels of Light formed out of performance troupe The Cockettes following a split between those who wanted to charge admission for their shows, and those who wanted to keep things free to all. Among the troupe there was Steven Brown, soon to be a founding member of Tuxedomoon:

The group began as an offshoot of The Angels of Light, ‘a “family” of dedicated artists who sang, danced, painted and sewed for the Free Theater’, says Steve Brown. ‘I was lucky to be part of the Angels—I fell for a bearded transvestite in the show and moved in with him at the Angels’ commune. Gay or bi men and women who were themselves works of art, extravagant in dress and behaviour, disciples of Artaud and Wilde and Julian Beck [of the Living Theater] … we lived together in a big Victorian house … pooled all our disability cheques each month, ate communally … and used the rest of the funds to produce lavish theatrical productions—never charging a dime to the public. This is what theatre was meant to be: a Dionysian rite of lights and music and chaos and Eros.’

Rip it Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984 by Simon Reynolds

(Special Treatment For The) Family Man (1979): A sombre commentary from the Scream With A View EP on the trial of Dan White, the assassin of Harvey Milk and George Moscone. White’s “special treatment” in court led to a conviction for manslaughter which in turn resulted in San Francisco’s White Night riots in May, 1979.

James Whale (1980): An instrumental on the first Tuxedomoon album, Half-Mute, all sinister electronics and tolling bells as befits a piece named after a director of horror films. Whale’s Bride of Frankenstein (1935) is not only the best of the Universal horror series, it’s also commonly regarded as a subversive examination of marriage and the creation of life from a gay perspective. (Whale’s friends and partner disagreed, however.)

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Cover art by Winston Tong.

Joeboy San Francisco (1981): The Joeboy name was lifted from a piece of San Francisco graffiti to become a name for Tuxedomoon’s DIY philosophy. It’s also a record label name, the name of an early single, and a side project of the group which in 1981 produced Joeboy In Rotterdam / Joeboy San Francisco. The SF side features a collage piece by Winston Tong based on The Wild Boys by William Burroughs, a key inspiration for the band which first surfaces here.

In one piece, the band cites its influences as: “burroughs, bowie, camus, cage, eno, moroder”. Can you say what you admired or drew on vis-à-vis these artists?

William S. Burroughs — ideas concerning use of media — tapes, projections, his radical anti-control politic in general as well as his outspoken gayness. Early on we duplicated on stage one of his early experiments projecting films of faces onto faces.

Simon Reynolds interview with Steven Brown

Continue reading “Tuxedomoon: some queer connections”

Tuxedomoon on La Edad de Oro, 1983

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La Edad de Oro (The Golden Age) was a Spanish television show which only ran from 1983 to 1985 but during that time it managed to cause a considerable stir, first by showcasing in lengthy programs many musical groups that would have been unknown to the Spanish public (or the public of their native countries, for that matter), and secondly by scandalising that public with irreligious performances from some of those bands. La Edad de Oro was part of a general attempt to bring Spain up to speed with the rest of European culture following the end of the Franco regime, as a result of which a number of leftfield groups were given far more attention than they would have received in the UK. Psychic TV were one of the groups offered a carte blanche two-hour slot, and I remember Genesis P Orridge mentioning this with some surprise in interviews.

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Tuxedomoon’s own edition of La Edad de Oro was broadcast on May 24, 1983. I’ve been fortunate to acquire a pristine copy of a later screening from one of the tape trading sites, and it’s a remarkable thing, cutting between couch interviews with the band members and a complete studio performance of their songs. The latter can been seen on YouTube, of course, so there’s no need to go hunting down rare files. This is the first Tuxedomoon concert I’ve seen, I don’t recall them ever being on British TV although some of their videos must have been screened somewhere. What’s fascinating is seeing how theatrical their performance is. In addition to screening some of Bruce Geduldig’s films on a backdrop, there are shadow vignettes and bits of stage play such as the ropes that bind each of the band members together during The Cage. Later on, Blaine Reininger and Winston Tong graffitise a sheet of film stretched over the stage. (Tuxedomoon’s “Joeboy” designation originated in some San Francisco street art.) I’m wondering if the rope business was borrowed from David Bowie: in the Cracked Actor film he does a similar thing during the Young Americans tour.

Wikipedia has a list of La Edad de Oro‘s artistas invitados not all of which are essential—China Crisis…please—but I’d love to see some of the other editions, the Cabaret Voltaire one especially. Time to go hunting.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Tuxedomoon designs by Patrick Roques
Pink Narcissus: James Bidgood and Tuxedomoon